Anxiety is a normal human emotion. Many of us use words such as stress, worry, fear and panic to describe feelings of anxiety. No matter the words we use to describe it, most people will agree that anxiety causes some unpleasant symptoms. Because most of us feel anxious from time to time, we can recognise and relate to some of these symptoms.
Experiencing the occasional symptoms of anxiety is normal and nothing to worry about. However, if the symptoms happen too often, are severe or start to impact our lives, then it is important to act.
When we experience anxiety, we are often affected by three types of symptoms; unhelpful thoughts, physical symptoms and unhelpful behaviours.
There are differences between experiencing occasional feelings of anxiety and having an anxiety disorder. It is good to know these differences so we can recognise them in ourselves or a loved one and seek help when appropriate. It is important to remember that anxiety disorders should only be diagnosed by a registered and experienced health professional.
An anxiety disorder is diagnosed when symptoms of anxiety:
Anxiety disorders often restrict what people feel able to do. We know that many people with mild symptoms of anxiety still work, study and have healthy relationships, but this is harder for people with moderate and severe anxiety.
Some people with severe symptoms of anxiety have difficulty leaving the house or being alone. Some people with anxiety symptoms become worried that they can’t control their anxiety, and may become worried that they will become isolated, lonely or depressed. People with anxiety disorders also have a higher risk of depression and substance use problems than other people.
If you would like to know more about your emotional wellbeing or whether you have symptoms of anxiety, you can take our short quiz. Your results will not be shared with anyone.
There are several different types of anxiety disorders. People may have symptoms of more than one type of anxiety disorder at a time. Many people also have symptoms that increase and decrease over time.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
The core symptoms of GAD is excessive worry, that is, worrying much more than other people. People with GAD worry excessively about everyday things including their health, finances, work and family. People with GAD struggle to control their worry. They recognise that their worry is excessive and that it affects their quality of life.
People with GAD also often experience physical symptoms that include muscle tension, feeling irritable, headaches, difficulty concentrating, trouble relaxing, trouble sleeping, abdominal distress and difficulty making decisions.
GAD affects about 500,000 Australians.
GAD can be treated, regardless of age. Click here for further information.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
The core symptom of social anxiety disorder is excessive fear of being judged by others. Most people with social anxiety recognise that their fear is excessive compared to other people.
People with social anxiety often avoid social events or public places because of fear of embarrassment or humiliation. This avoidance can have a significant impact on the person’s ability to participate fully in their social or work life, and can affect their confidence and self-esteem.
About 1 million Australians have social anxiety disorder each year.
Social Anxiety Disorder can be treated, regardless of age. Click here for further information.
Panic disorder and/or agoraphobia
The core symptom of panic disorder is excessive fear of having a panic attack. A panic attack is a short episode (about 10 minutes) during which a person experiences unpleasant and often terrifying physical symptoms. These symptoms often include a racing heart, dizziness, sweating, hyperventilation, chest pain and/or upset stomach. Because of these symptoms most people believe that they are going insane, having a heart attack or dying.
While most people will experience a panic attack at some time in their lives, people with panic disorder have excessive fear of having these episodes. People with panic disorder often also have agoraphobia, which is when one avoids places because of worry that they will have a panic attack.
Approximately 500,000 Australians have panic disorder each year.
Panic disorder can be treated, regardless of age. Click here for further information.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
The core symptoms for all people with OCD are unwanted thoughts or mental images, which occur repeatedly. These are called obsessions. The content of the obsessions differ between people. Some people with OCD have obsessions about contamination, others have violent images, or unwanted sexual thoughts, or obsessions about losing control, or thoughts about religious rituals. People with OCD often feel very uncomfortable and distressed because of the obsessions.
To cope with the distress caused by the obsessions, many people with OCD (but not all) perform rituals called compulsions. Examples of compulsions include doing things like repeated washing and cleaning, checking things or mental rituals.
International psychiatric classification systems have recently disagreed about whether OCD should be classified as an anxiety disorder. We continue to consider most forms of OCD as an anxiety disorder due to the high levels of fear and distress resulting from the obsessions, and because OCD can often be effectively treated using psychological skills that help manage symptoms of other anxiety disorders.
OCD affects about 300,000 Australians each year.
Many people experience an improvement in their OCD symptoms with treatment. Click here for further information.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
People with PTSD have experienced or witnessed a very stressful or traumatic event. As a result, they experience long-term symptoms, which are distressing and affect their ability to live their lives the way they would like. These symptoms include distressing thoughts or nightmares about the traumatic event, sleep problems, feeling easily startled and on edge, becoming irritable and depressed, having difficulty concentrating and feeling unsafe. People with PTSD also often avoid people, places or other reminders of a traumatic event.
In addition to symptoms of anxiety, people with PTSD often also experience symptoms of depression such as feeling numb, tired, and lacking interest in doing things.
International psychiatric classification systems have recently disagreed about whether PTSD should be classified as an anxiety disorder. We continue to consider PTSD as an anxiety disorder due to the high levels of symptoms of fear and distress, and because PTSD can be effectively treated using psychological skills that help manage symptoms of other anxiety disorders.
About 1 million Australians experience PTSD every year.
Many people experience an improvement in their symptoms of PTSD with treatment. Click here for further information.
Anxiety disorders can have many unhelpful effects and stop a person from living the life they want. The good news is that anxiety disorders can be treated, regardless of age or how severe the symptoms.
Learning to beat anxiety takes courage, commitment and practice, but many people successfully learn to overcome symptoms of anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Psychological treatment programs such as those offered by MindSpot, can help people with anxiety disorders learn about their symptoms, learn skills for managing these symptoms, and then gradually resume their usual activities. Getting effective treatment for an anxiety disorder often also has the effect of reducing symptoms of other psychological disorders, such as depression.
Treatment programs can help people with different types of anxiety disorders:
People who have symptoms of anxiety but do not have a full anxiety disorder, can also benefit from learning the skills taught in psychological treatment programs. This is known as early intervention. Early intervention can stop symptoms from becoming chronic and severe.
For more information about treatment options and assistance for anxiety: